Spacewalk to fix space station leak
May 10th, 2013
08:56 AM ET

Spacewalk to fix space station leak

The International Space Station crew is preparing for a spacewalk to address the leak of ammonia from a cooling system, the commander said Friday.

NASA said the crew is preparing for a "possible" spacewalk and that a decision on whether to go ahead with it is likely to come late Friday.

Cmdr. Chris Hadfield of Canada announced the plan to venture outside the space station via his Twitter account.

"Good Morning, Earth! Big change in plans, spacewalk tomorrow, Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn are getting suits and airlock ready. Cool!" he posted Friday.

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Saturn V engine parts
March 20th, 2013
02:12 PM ET

Apollo mission rocket engines recovered

By Brian Walker, CNN

A set of giant rocket engines that once propelled astronauts to space have now been recovered from the icy depths of the Atlantic, say a team of researchers led by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos four decades after they splashed into the ocean.

“What an incredible adventure,” Bezos posted on his website from onboard his recovery ship off the Florida coast.

“We found so much,” the billionaire adventurer says. “We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program.”

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NASA restores communication with International Space Station
February 20th, 2013
09:35 AM ET

NASA restores communication with International Space Station

NASA restored communication with the International Space Station on Tuesday after connections went dark following a routine computer software update.

Before the fix, the space agency said the craft was able to communicate only every 90 minutes when it passed over ground stations in Russia.

"This is the same way they used to do it in the 1960s, with Gemini and Apollo," NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said.

The station, which is carrying two American astronauts, three Russian cosmonauts and a Canadian astronaut, did not appear to be in danger.

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How to land on an asteroid
Asteroid landers in this computer simulation resemble Weebles, familiar toys for anyone who grew up in the 1970s.
February 14th, 2013
07:30 AM ET

How to land on an asteroid

By Paul Gabrielsen, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Paul Gabrielsen is a science writer based in Santa Cruz, California. He is a science communication graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has written for ScienceNOW, the San Jose Mercury News, Geospace and mongabay.com.

In the future, scientists want to be able to send spacecraft to study asteroids such as the one that will approach the Earth on Friday. A concept for these landers may look familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1970s.

Egg-shaped and weighted at the bottom, the landers prototype designs for a possible future NASA mission look like roly-poly Weebles, which wobble, as the old jingle goes, but don’t fall down.

The craft are still only computer simulations, a decade away from being ready to launch, but their simple design overcomes some of the biggest challenges in exploring asteroids’ alien landscapes.

Planetary scientists Naor Movshovitz and Erik Asphaug designed the landers, which they call “pods.” NASA’s Near Earth Object Program funded their work, which grew out of Movshovitz’s doctoral research on deflecting asteroids from Earth’s orbit. Movshovitz is a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Asphaug, his advisor, recently moved to Arizona State University.

Photos: Asteroids

Whether attempting to deflect an asteroid or trying to land an astronaut on its surface, scientists need to know the basics of what its surface is like. Small, low-cost surface landers (less than $1 million, with no moving parts) can travel to an asteroid and provide the needed information, if they can land successfully.

Asteroids are tricky places to land a spacecraft right-side up. Spinning through space, an asteroid’s small, uneven terrain and extremely weak gravity make even the idea of “up” and “down” fluid concepts. The techniques that have safely landed the recent Mars rovers (bouncy airbags for Spirit and Opportunity, a complicated “sky crane” for Curiosity) simply don’t work on an asteroid.

“Asteroids being weird and wacky places, we have to be prepared for any situation,” Asphaug said.

Saving Earth from asteroids

Their first design was boxy, like a deck of playing cards with one side coated in bouncy-ball rubber. The idea was for these landers to bounce around the asteroid before coming to rest, nonbouncy side down.

Since asteroids are in short supply in Santa Cruz, California, the scientists tested their designs in a computer model, using a video game physics simulator. Video game physics are just as good as scientific physics models, Asphaug said, and modern graphics cards can run the simulations 100 times faster.

Movshovitz tossed the square landers onto a computer-simulated asteroid. The rubbery side bounced, as designed. But too many landers came to rest wrong-side down.

They developed a new design an egg-shaped lander weighted on the bottom, just like the Weebles that Asphaug played with as a kid.

“I was fascinated by Weebles,” Asphaug said. The toys, first produced in 1971, could be knocked in any direction but would still come to rest right-side up. Asphaug bet Movshovitz that the wobbly pods would work better than the previous “sandwich” lander, even in microgravity.

Movshovitz made the lower half of the pod nine times heavier than the upper half. In his simulation, the lower half was colored red, the upper half green. The landers, descending to the simulated surface, look like tomatoes falling from heaven.

Every roly-poly lander popped right up, even one that had landed on its head. Asphaug won the bet.

Movshovitz also is using video game physics to study how asteroids break apart in a planet’s orbit. The physics will be key, he said, to understanding the balance between the friction that holds the asteroid together and the strong planetary gravity that could tear it apart.

Asphaug said he hopes to continue to take advantage of the computing power developed by the video game industry to advance science. Video gaming, after all, is a $65 billion industry obsessed with making graphics faster, smoother and closer to reality than ever before. NASA’s entire budget, by comparison, is less than $18 billion.

Movshovitz uses a high-performance gaming computer sporting a graphics card with around 500 processors. His black metallic keyboard features sharp, angular lines and an amber backlit glow. With such a machine, is there ever a temptation to play games?

“After hours,” Movshovitz said with a smile.

Researchers presented these ideas at the 2012 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in December.

Asphaug’s Arizona State University team is now working on real-life pod prototypes, about the size of two softballs end to end, to prepare for NASA’s next asteroid mission, launching in 2022.

“Time flies,” Asphaug said. “We’ll be ready.”

What's happening on the space station?
January 31st, 2013
11:32 AM ET

What's happening on the space station?

By Zaina Adamu, CNN

High above us, beyond the skies, is the International Space Station, which weighs nearly 1 million pounds and has a wingspan the length of a football field. It has nine rooms, two bathrooms, two kitchens and two mini-gyms, and it is the largest spacecraft orbiting the Earth.

NASA announced this week that an instrument called ISS-RapidScat will be launched to the station in 2014 to improve weather forecasts, by doing things like monitoring hurricanes. It will also help scientists explore the Earth's global wind field; tropical clouds and tropical systems are affected by wind variations caused by the sun.

Another experiment on board is called InSPACE, which stands for "Investigating the Structure of Paramagnetic Aggregates From Colloidal Emulsions." All that means that scientists are studying magnetorheological fluids, which are complex substances that change form or harden when exposed to magnetic fields. These substances could one day be useful in robots, NASA says, acting as a "blood" to make the movement of joints and limbs like that of a living creature.

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SpaceX Dragon berthed at ISS for first commercial cargo mission
October 10th, 2012
02:14 PM ET

SpaceX Dragon berthed at ISS for first commercial cargo mission

The SpaceX Dragon was successfully berthed at the International Space Station Wednesday as the station's crew caught and secured the unmanned cargo capsule high above Earth, NASA announced.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide latched onto Dragon with a robotic arm at 6:56 a.m. By 9:03, the craft was attached to the station's docking module, the space agency said.

"Looks like we've tamed the Dragon," NASA's Sunita Williams, commander of the current ISS mission, said in a statement released by SpaceX.

The Dragon mission lifted off Sunday on the first commercial space cargo mission, carrying about a half-ton of supplies for the station's crew. It caught up with the ISS Wednesday morning, 273 miles over the South Atlantic Ocean, NASA said.

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SpaceX reviews engine failure, but Dragon on course
People watch as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and its unmanned Dragon capsule are readied for launch Sunday in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
October 9th, 2012
01:05 PM ET

SpaceX reviews engine failure, but Dragon on course

The SpaceX Dragon capsule remains on course for the International Space Station despite losing one of nine booster engines, but a satellite launched on the same rocket didn't reach its intended orbit, its operator said Monday.

SpaceX launched the first commercial space cargo mission on Sunday night. But a minute and 19 seconds after the Falcon 9 booster lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, one of the nine Merlin engines that power the rocket "lost pressure suddenly," the company disclosed Monday.

The rocket "did exactly what it was designed to do," as its flight computer made adjustments to keep the Dragon headed into the proper orbit. The unmanned capsule, which is carrying about 1,000 pounds of supplies for the space station, is scheduled to arrive at the orbital platform on Wednesday, SpaceX said.

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October 8th, 2012
05:32 PM ET

SpaceX capsule on course despite engine failure

A SpaceX Dragon capsule remains on course for the International Space Station despite the failure of one of nine engines on its booster rocket after launch, the company reported Monday.

The failure occurred at a minute and 19 seconds into the first commercial space cargo mission, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday night, SpaceX disclosed.

"Initial data suggests that one of the rocket's nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued immediately," the company said in a written statement.

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October 8th, 2012
01:33 PM ET

Commercial cargo flight heading to International Space Station

The SpaceX rocket lifted off Sunday night carrying an unmanned cargo capsule.

The Falcon 9 rocket with its Dragon capsule launched on schedule at 8:35 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with an orange blaze against the black night sky. About 10 minutes into the flight, the Dragon separated from the rocket and was on its way to the station.

Mission control called it "a picture-perfect launch and a flawless flight of Falcon."

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SpaceX to launch flight to space station
SpaceX will begin its first official resupply flight to international space station on Sunday, NASA said.
October 5th, 2012
06:29 PM ET

SpaceX to launch flight to space station

For SpaceX, every flight is the real deal. It’s that way for any rocket company. But this time around, more than in the past, the private company contracted with NASA is flying without a safety net.

Sunday, if all goes well, at 8:30 p.m. ET, a Falcon 9 Rocket with a Dragon capsule on top will lift off from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

This will be the first of a dozen NASA-contracted flights to resupply the international space Station, at a total cost of $1.6 billion.

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